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Animal Architects: Building and the Evolution of Intelligence Hardcover – March 12, 2007


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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 336 pages
  • Publisher: Basic Books; 1st Printing edition (March 12, 2007)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0465027822
  • ISBN-13: 978-0465027828
  • Product Dimensions: 6.1 x 0.8 x 9.2 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.2 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 4.5 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (11 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,311,620 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

In order to elucidate the thought processes of animals-and those processes' evolution-the Goulds (The Animal Mind) consider those animals' egg caches, cocoons, webs, nests and other structures. According to the authors, "complex nervous systems exist to make sense of the world"; therefore, by examining the material construction sprung from those nervous systems, one can begin to understand how those systems function. It makes a fascinating journey, with plenty of surprises. Beginning with the simplest structures of ants, wasps and bees, the authors introduce concepts of neural mapping to show what levels of brain complexity are necessary for the construction of such structures. Distinguishing instinctual neural program from questions of spontaneity and creativity, the Goulds suggest that creatures as small as wasps can react with spontaneous problem solving behaviors. The creativity of bower birds and beavers is more astounding: the former is known to build and decorate "maypoles," clearly demonstrating aesthetic sense; and the latter display abstract reasoning, and even insight, in the maintenance and repair of their lodges, dams and canals. This book is filled with fascinating vignettes illuminating the intelligence capabilities of species us humans would like to think of as inferior; again and again, the Goulds show that human beings aren't necessarily the smartest kids in class.
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.

From Booklist

The Goulds (he's a leading animal behavior expert, and she is a science writer) present an eye-opening survey of an underappreciated facet of animal life--the building skills of insects, birds, and mammals. Because most animal architecture is hidden from human view, we are unaware of the extent of animal ingenuity, so the revelatory tour the Goulds conduct elicits one wow after another. They dissect the sophisticated construction and elegant aesthetics of coral reefs, webs, cocoons, hives, nests, dams, lodges, and towers, marveling at the resourcefulness of animals in terms of the materials they produce and collect, the tools they fashion, and the "astonishing complexity" of their structures. They also dispel the old assumption that animals are simply programmed to build, creating out of instinct. Instead, as painstakingly gathered evidence reveals, animals invent new skills to solve problems and communicate their intentions. As our ancestors knew, there is much to be learned from other species, especially now as we endeavor to create ecologically sound human architecture and technologies. Donna Seaman
Copyright © American Library Association. All rights reserved

Customer Reviews

4.5 out of 5 stars
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Highly recommendable for neophytes as well.
Andres Zurita
In doing so, they overturn some long held misconceptions - most notably the one that declares only humans have broken the bonds of innately determined behaviours.
Stephen A. Haines
I am actually a computer scientist interested on robotics, and find this book an excellent source of inspiration for autonomous systems.
oscar valdez

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

7 of 7 people found the following review helpful By Rob Hardy HALL OF FAMETOP 500 REVIEWER on May 2, 2007
Format: Hardcover
What do animals think? That is a pretty advanced question; after all, a lot of human thought has gone into denigrating even the possibility of thought in animals. We accept, perhaps reluctantly, that some animals can hear better than we can, for instance, and certainly some are faster or stronger or bigger. It is well accepted, too, that we do a better job of thinking and abstracting ideas than any other creature does. It is also clear that any thinking that animals do is a lot different from what we do, since our thinking is so heavily freighted with symbolic language. "Mental activity is, by its nature, private; what goes on in the brain has to be inferred. In tracing the evolution of cognitive strategies, the most tangible evidence is found among animals that build - in what they build and how they build it." So write James R. Gould and Carol Grant Gould in Animal Architects: Building and the Evolution of Intelligence (Basic Books). The book is packed with examples of animal creations and thoughtful, careful, unexaggerated attempts to understand what is going on in the minds of the builders from the insect, bird, and mammal worlds. The thinking of other animals is, by turns, quite different and quite similar to our own, and throws light upon evolution of brains and behavior in general and upon our own evolution.

The Goulds are always on the lookout for the most parsimonious explanation of behavior. For centuries, people thought that animals just acted on instinct and nothing more, and indeed there are plenty of examples here of such behavior. Many insects, the Goulds say merrily, "... lead intellectually unchallenging lives.
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4 of 4 people found the following review helpful By Stephen A. Haines HALL OF FAME on June 25, 2008
Format: Hardcover
Asking a lone wasp dragging a cricket across a paddock how she finds her way home won't elicit much response. Interrogating a honeybee about why she's doing this task now, while she was engaged in something entirely different a short time ago will net you little information. The Goulds, however, delve into some of the motivations behind animal behaviour. In this easily accessible volume, they provide some interesting and challenging answers to the question of how animal minds work. In doing so, they overturn some long held misconceptions - most notably the one that declares only humans have broken the bonds of innately determined behaviours.

This is highly speculative material, but the proposals are well thought out and amply supported by the workers cited. The underlying proposal is simple: the other animals are only slightly more prompted by innate drives than we are. Categorizing the behavior of other animals as "just intuition" is demonstrably fallacious. Whether we label it "reasoning power" or "cognitive ability" is irrelevant. The point is that even that solitary wasp is confronted with the need to make decisions that will take her from a fixed path. She can, and does, survey changed conditions in order to achieve a desired goal. She is not fixed in her responses and can adapt using her mental resources efficiently.

The authors use various forms of "mappings" to explain how variations of cognitive capacity and ability are found in nature. That solitary wasp, for instance, needs to locate the burrow where she's left her egg. Somehow, tucked in her miniscule brain, there's record of landmarks around that tiny hole in the soil, allowing her to move with confidence. Shift the landmarks - a stone or twig - and she's confused.
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9 of 11 people found the following review helpful By Anna Karenina on July 1, 2007
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
Gould and Gould write about a fascinating subject. Unfortunately, the book is not as readable as it could have been. The authors have a bad habit of getting into new topics with a welter of detail and only then coming back to basics or making larger points or providing context. The result is that I'm often lost--what's the species they're talking about? What are the basic facts about it? I keep asking myself who their intended reader is. I think they intend to speak to a general audience, but they don't think enough about this audience's needs. The book is written in a plain textbook-like style, without much poetry, context, allusion to bigger issues, or the like. Still, I have learned quite a bit by reading it.
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful By Vic Ridgley on June 19, 2007
Format: Hardcover
Gould and Gould lead us through a fascinating review of animal 'intelligences,' as manifested by the increasingly complex nature of structures constructed by insects (ants, termites, spiders, bees, wasps), birds (raptors, waders, and passerines), and mammals (love those beavers!). The underlying arguments are that (1) some of the construction behaviors of specific species may be primitive, instinctive and repetitive, but other species on the 'same' phylogenetic level have clearly learned to adapt and modify their structures to account for variation in available materials; (2) the adaptability translates to more reproductive success, allowing the type animal to colonize more niches; (3) the variety of structural solutions acts as a feedback loop in brain development, which culminates in (4) an enhanced mental capacity which equips an animal to cope with variety better.

Progressing from seemingly hard-wired to adaptive examples in all sorts of animals, the authors remind us that some types of 'intelligence' are the result of habitual practices which work in habitual situations. Thus, the example of pigeons successfully building a nest by randomly dropping twigs works only because of the friction of twig surfaces in contact. Given smooth dowels, the pigeon cannot construct a usable nest.

At the same time, they remind us that the seemingly brilliant engineering behavior seen in beavers - that is, the ability to regulate streamflow year-round and create protected dwellings - is NOT matched by a corresponding ability to fell trees intelligently: They cite examples where beavers jointly gnaw on the same tree at different heights, resulting in an unsuccessful felling, or fail to take full advantage of partly felled trees.
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